Today's Zaman, Turkey
Oct 5 2012

Turkish foreign policy and Syria


A serious domestic struggle started with the coming of the Justice and
Development Party (AK Party) to power on Nov. 3, 2002.

However, the network established by party leaders with the US and the
EU before the start of the administration enabled them to fight back
in the war against the guardianship regime by reliance on the bodies
of the broader military, media and judiciary. In the aftermath of this
struggle, clear political positions, the EU membership bid and popular
support have legitimized the government and its actions. The
administration has fought against the deep state on legal grounds,
whereas it has relied on initiatives and openings to address the
assumption suggested by the Kemalist paradigm that we are surrounded
by enemies.

Regardless of domestic hurdles, favorable world economic conditions
have helped the government in this process. The rise of oil prices in
the second term of the government was a burden for Turkey, which deals
with energy deficits through imports, but the economy was left to
experts in their fields and lessons were drawn from the February 2000
crisis. The banking system was revised and strengthened after this
crisis. The budgetary measures and discipline were strict. The
financial administration has expended efforts to diversify the weight
of the EU and the US on imports.

During this process, a large group of volunteers and Turkish
entrepreneurs strived to establish business ties all around the world.
As voluntary representatives of the government, they have created
alternative markets in various parts of the world, including Africa.
The rising prestige associated with the attempts to deal with the
Kemalist tutelage has also made the government self-confident.

Turkey and the international stage

Efforts to integrate with the rest of the world have become more
visible as ideological prejudices have been addressed. For the same
reason, strong relations have been established with neighboring
countries. The protocols signed with Armenia, despite grave historical
and ideological baggage, represented a huge step forward for Turkey.
Warm relations, including removal of the visa barriers, enabled Turkey
to emerge as a stable bridge between Western and Eastern states.

Turkey became even more important after the coming of Barack Obama to
power in the US, an administration which did away with the Sept. 11
paradigm and decided to maintain warm ties with the Islamic world.
Turkey became an important regional power not only because it was a
leading ally of the EU and the US and a respected NATO member, but
also because it was a political power in its region. Its strong
economy was a further asset in this setting.

Turkey has also addressed the crimes that Israel committed in
Palestinian lands, as well as the offenses committed by Hamas; Prime
Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoń?an's one-minute showdown in Davos, and the
attempt to ensure that Iran does not become a radical power by voting
against the draft resolution in the UN Security Council, despite
American efforts, were taken as serious steps and signs of strong

These humane stances, distant to real political considerations,
attracted support from the world as they were backed by power. Turkey
was not considered a weak and insignificant state that could be easily
swayed. It could be said that the one-minute reaction has taken the
rage held by Palestinian and Muslim people vis-√-vis the West from a
marginal perspective to a point of reconciliation. Erdoń?an's stance
was interpreted as the return of the Muslims into world politics in a
more rational and respected fashion.

This was actually what Obama referred to in the struggle against
al-Qaeda: making a distinction between terror and Islam, and leaving
George W. Bush's neo-con style behind. Erdoń?an's attitude, which did
not demonize the West but promoted the rights of Muslims, was a great
opportunity for the new world order.

In the meantime, however, other events have taken place. Israeli
commandos conducted a bloody raid on the Mavi Marmara, an aid ship
sent to Gaza for humanitarian purposes. Nine citizens of Turkey were
murdered in the attack. This was unacceptable. The incident cracked
bilateral relations between Turkey and Israel. Turkey is making no
attempt to normalize relations with Israel as it expects an official
apology, payment of compensation and the lifting of the Gaza blockade.
This pleases the Muslim world; however, it is an improper policy
choice that restricts Turkey's role and power in the region.

It should be noted that the government was not involved in the Mavi
Marmara incident. The Foreign Ministry attempted to stop the aid
operation, but I have heard that the organizers could not be
convinced. However, it is obvious that the government needs to be more
forceful on such issues. The Mavi Marmara initiative was not a
successful and appropriate example of civil disobedience; it only
caused the deaths of nine people and the end of Turkish influence over
Israel in the region. I believe that the government pursued a proper
and rational policy on the Syrian crisis up until the time when it
failed to observe boundaries with the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Even
though a marginal group of left-wingers and the Republican People's
Party (CHP) supported the Baath regime, out of opposition to the AK
Party, the government correctly opposed a dictator who has now killed
around 25,000 people. Those who accuse the government of having good
relations with the Bashar al-Assad regime before the start of the
massacres base their opposition on their dislike of the AK Party. A
state should not wait for improvement of human rights standards in a
neighboring country in order to foster warm ties. Besides, close
relations and growing political and economic dependency increase
influence over that country.

Nevertheless, remaining silent on massacres would not be a proper
approach. The support Russia and China are extending to the crimes
against humanity in Syria is shameful for these countries; history
will recall them as associates of these heinous crimes.

Turkey lacks a balanced policy on Syria

However, it should also be noted that the government has failed to
draft a balanced policy on the Syrian crisis, considering that it has
extended extensive support to the FSA. Turkey's greatest problem is
still its inability to end Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) violence;
the historical relationship between Syria and the PKK has made the
Syrian crisis a domestic matter and the PKK issue a Middle Eastern
problem. The government's actions in this process have been
reactionary; it has aligned itself with the FSA, which actually is not
a promising actor in the future of Syria. This was in response to
provocations by Syria, with Assad ceding partial control along Syria's
border with Turkey to the PKK. It is obvious that from this point
onwards the PKK has become stronger and attempted to reestablish ties
with the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), the PKK of Iran.

The murder of five people in Turkey in a mortar attack from Syrian
soil has shocked everybody. Turkey retaliated in accordance with the
renewed rules of engagement. It further relied on the mechanisms of
international law and asked for solidarity from NATO, the US and the
EU. After the downing of the F4 aircraft by Syrian fire, Turkey had
already declared that it would strongly respond to any similar attack
in the future. However, the initial reaction and statements from the
Syrian side are promising.

Prime Minister Erdoń?an noted after the adoption of the motion in
Parliament giving authority for cross-border raids into Syria that
waging war was not considered. I believe that a war with Syria would
be a disaster for Turkey, and that the government will avoid this.
However, a state also needs to prove its deterrent power and its
decisiveness in retaliation. For this reason, I think the influential
diplomatic moves in the aftermath of the attack and the adoption of
the motion are proper steps. It is also clear that the anti-war lobby
in Turkey has again become attentive to the rise of power and
influence of the AK Party. But in actuality, both the government and
the people are concerned about the possible repercussions of a
regional war.

In conclusion, Turkey needs to learn lessons from its past mistakes
and should reconsider its ties with the FSA while aligning itself with
international powers. Improving the living standards of the asylum
seekers who have fled to Turkey from Syria, ensuring that the world
stays focused on this crisis and putting diplomatic pressure on Iran
and Syria are the best policies that Turkey could pursue.
Unfortunately, it is not realistic to think that Turkey could embark
alone on a risk that the US and NATO will not take.